Building trustful relationships in early childhood settings

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Building trustful relationships in early childhood settings

Our webinar with Jean Rockel from the University of Auckland and Emma Thomsen from Tot’s Corner ELC, focused on the importance of teachers’ trustful relationships with each other in early childhood settings, particularly in infant and toddler contexts, and how these can be promoted, strengthened and nurtured. Below are some of the key ideas discussed.

Trustful relationships are at the heart of well-being

Teachers’ connections with others are at the heart of teacher well-being, and quality connections depend on trust. Trustful relationships are relationships in which teachers have mutual respect for each other, appreciate each other’s talents and strengths, are sensitive to each other’s feelings and offer support to one another. These relationships create a safe environment for teachers to take risks and learn alongside each other, to openly talk about feelings and beliefs, and to disagree. For relationships to support well-being there needs to be a daily connecting between teachers, and a daily practice of small supportive gestures.

Consequences for children

Trustful relationships are important for positive social interactions between teachers, and enable teachers to offer children consistency and reliability as well as role model positive relationships. Children need positive role models for relationships as relational skills don’t automatically mature like language or motor skills, but are learned. Children’s experiences in the first few years of life form a template for all other relationships in the future. 

Strategies for developing trustful relationships

Practise listening and paying attention. Prepare yourself not to be judgemental and biased but truly honest. Value your co-teachers and give a lot of unrushed time to communicating with them. Work on communication skills, and be personally reflective, especially looking to break cycles of blame and to take responsibility using language that stunts other people’s growth and learning. Do reading and share ideas from your learning to develop deeper conversations about meaningful things. Value ‘knots’ and complexities, but also have fun and look for and share the joyful moments. 

Staff meetings are crucial for building trustful relationships, in terms of providing a time where staff can feel nurtured and supported, as well as able to talk more openly. It can be useful to use a reading or video as a focus, and have teachers talk about what it meant to them, or ask teachers to share what they’ve been learning about, which helps teachers to understand each other, find ways to collaborate and build a sense of connection. 

When developing trust is difficult

Some relationships can be very difficult to develop, but it’s important to try and make some kind of connection. Making a connection with how a co-teacher is feeling provides a space in which to explore that further. Other useful strategies include working on encouraging each teacher’s sense of belonging, developing their sense of autonomy, and recognising each teacher’s strengths and competence. Trustful relationships do take time. 

Culturally responsive relationship building

There can be a cultural dimension to developing trustful relationships and teachers’ contrasting cultural positions need to be taken into account. For example, it can be inappropriate to disagree or contradict another person, especially if they are more senior. Again the value of trying to understand and give respect to the other person is significant. Be willing to be a learner and avoid pushing your own values. Instead try to find something to come together about, perhaps something you mutually believe in, or a focus on the children or understanding the curriculum. Another good strategy is to invest in another person’s culture or language, seeking ways to make yourself uncomfortable in order to find out how that feels, and talking to your co-teacher about it.

Moving on to trustful relationships across the centre community

Relationships with our co-teachers provide an opportunity to play and to learn about the kind of relationships we can build. The lessons learned can be applied to relationships with children and families. The first trustful relationships should be with parents, especially when teaching infants and toddlers, because then the children feel comfortable to build relationships with teachers.

By Dr Vicki Hargraves


Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our early childhood webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our early childhood research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.

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